lthough it's set in New York and the language is
English (with a smattering of Chinese thrown in for good measure), Alfred
Cheung's "Manhattan Midnight" could easily be categorized as a
U.S. production, although it's not. The only well-known American face is
leading man Richard Grieco ("Webs"),
whose character is being chased by faceless FBI agents, one of whom speaks
with a noticeable British accent. How strange is that?
"Midnight" stars Grieco as "M", a
shadowy hitman working out of a dingy, spartan apartment in New York City.
We learn from M's only friend (Michael Wong) that the two were once Navy
SEALs. Aside from this little off-the-cuff exposition, nothing else is
known about the mysterious M. Not that it matters, because like all movie
hitmen, M spends his time in solitude pining for a normal life while
shadows literally and figuratively surround his existence. I.e. it's the
same laconic hitman character you've seen in, say, 5 million other generic
movies about hired killers.
Things take a tricky turn for our throaty voiced
killer when he's hired to snuff out the mistress of a philandering tycoon.
But M botches the job, killing the victim's twin sister instead of the
intended target. Now you may be asking yourself how in the world M managed
to mistake the two women, even if they happen to look exactly alike
(because they're both played by the beautiful Maggie Q). After all, didn't
M's client give him the name and address of the target? How
in the world did a world-class professional assassin make such a massive
blunder? Answer: Cause the script says so, stupid.
But you needn't worry, because writer/director Alfred
Cheung doesn't seem especially interested in answering such obvious
questions. Instead, Cheung decides to focus on the burgeoning and very
awkward relationship between M and Susan, who was the actual target.
Having killed Hope, Susan's innocent and identical twin sister, M is
feeling mighty guilty, and well he should. Not only was Hope walking
around with a gleaming halo, but she also took the time to comfort M, in
old man disguise, when their elevator got stuck. You see, although he's a
cold-blooded killer, our hero is claustrophobic, stemming from his
experiences in...a Southeast Asian bamboo cage?
Not that the how's and why's of "Manhattan
Midnight's" narrative construction matters. The film works best when
it's exploring the awkwardness of having to rely on your twin sister's
murderer to save your life, especially when your dead twin sister keeps
appearing to you as a ghostly apparition. Although, since even in death
Hope is eternally kind and unfathomably forgiving, she's more of a
spiritual entity, returning to guide the sister she never knew and her
killer onto the road of righteousness. Or some such.
"Manhattan Midnight" is not a bad film at
all if you ignore all the obvious questions that its gimmicky plot raises
and then pretends didn't really exist in the first place. Cheung seems to
be going for a faux esoteric vibe, and for the most part the film is
reasonably good when it focuses on the exterior turmoil of Susan and the
conflicting angst of her would-be murderer-cum-guardian angel. These
scenes work because Maggie Q. ("Naked
Weapon") is more than a fair actress. And lest my Manly Man's
Member Card be revoked, it deserves mentioning that Maggie Q is a stunning
woman. As our hero, Grieco works well enough, although one would have
liked more facets to what ultimately seems like a very one-dimensional
Since "Manhattan Midnight" is a movie about
a hired killer, the action scenes deserve scrutiny. Cheung is less
successful here, relying on very weak action choreography, especially by
Hong Kong standards. For the most part the film's action scenes amount to
M standing perfectly still while exchanging gunfire with whatever faceless
gunmen he happens to be confronting at the moment. Invariably the opponent
gets shot and falls down, although not out of any real marksmanship on M's
part. I suppose even the most inept gunman could just stand there like a
block of wood and keep firing nonstop until you finally hit something.
Besides Maggie Q, the other face Hong Kong fans will
recognize is Michael Wong ("Beast
Cops"), whose character shows up, disappears, then shows up again
toward the end to help M finish off some stinking Italian gangsters. And
being that the Italians are gangsters and "Manhattan Midnight"
is constructed out of clichés, the movie's main Italian goombah is of
course always seen pigging out at the dining table and talking about how
much he loves food. I mean, doesn't all Italian gangsters do that?